Recently, in a political discourse, a high-end political entity called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi alias Mahatma Gandhi inter alia Bapu, as a chatur baniya. Although highly uncalled for, this ragged statement was highly prerogative. But if not taken in its literal sense, was it wrong?
“In March 1922”, as quoted by Ramchandra Guha- “Gandhi was arrested on charges of sedition. When he was produced in the court, the magistrate, as per the law then prevalent, asked him to identify himself by caste or profession. Gandhi answered ‘a farmer and a weaver’ ”.
Gandhi indeed was born in a baniya family, and few of them were weavers or farmers. Howsoever, Gandhi’s description was apt and accurate. As in the erstwhile Sabarmati ashram he did not trade in but weave khadi and experimented with livestock. That statement alone is a primary example of Gandhi’s lifelong commitment to his social life.
Gandhi defied his community’s restrictions and travelled overseas to pursue law. As noted down in his biography, while staying in London he stayed together with a white Christian named Josiah Oldfield. Thereafter in South Africa, he and his wife while breaking the racist stigmas highly prevalent at that time shared a home with a jew “Henry Polak” and a christian “Millie Polak”. These people defied the casteism of Indians and racism of Europeans.
Transcending all boundaries, Gandhi despite being a baniya by birth, he was a Brahmin by nature (a teacher by practice not by virtue), by impulse a Kshatriya (his successful struggle for independence), by choice a Shudra (his humble lifestyle and descriptive work), and a monk by virtue. He was a chattel of all castes, a saint who preached only what he practiced.
Despite being a hindu by birth, he conferred all people irrespective of their religion (Mahomedans, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Jains, Budhhists etc.) as his spiritual brothers. Recognising that all paths led to salvation, and all were the ways to view god.
A guy of his characteristics who defied the well prevalent practice of untouchability when even his wife was supportive of the orthodox. As Ramchandra Guha notes “when Gandhi arrived in India (1915), he took a family of ‘so called’ untouchables under his shed. This created quite a furor amongst the members of the elite communities. Even his wife was unsupportive of Gandhi. The family was restricted from accessing the common well to brew water. It was the case until Gandhi himself stopped availing that well in the act of defiance”.
Through the decades of his work in India, Gandhi persistently attacked the practice of untouchabilty. Chatur (intelligent) he definitely was. For he attacked these practices in stages. Step by step, and influence by influence. Even amongst his children, he had two adopted daughters, one from the dalit caste (the so-called untouchables) and one of the Christian community. A saint like him, who died while working harmoniously for the benefit of all communities, how one cannot consider him a chatur baniya (intelligent trader). For he was, a trader of good practice and harmonious living.
Albeit, the present BJP is light years away from understanding a man of his stature and belief. A political party with the backing of an organisation that has never transcended caste or religion in its own practice. It is entirely understandable that they labelled and reduced Gandhi to the origins of his caste alone.